Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is a revered plastic surgeon who keeps a woman in a locked room on constant surveillance inside his house. Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya) is the woman who is literally being patching up by Ledgard. Burnt and damaged skin is believed to be the cause of the restoration. That is, until Zeca (Robert Alamo), the criminal and on-the-run son of housekeeper Marilia (Marisa Paredas), appears and the truth of the past is slowly revealed about why Vera is placed in the locked room.
Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar returns with a mysterious and slow revealing thriller with The Skin I Live In. Co-written with Agustin Almodóvar, the film is a loose adaptation of Thierry Jonquet‘s novel Tarantula. Almodovar sees to familiar themes across his body of work that deconstructs gender binaries and places the body as an examinable entity. Stylistically, Almodovar moves away from the customary melodramatic form to the slow revealing thriller. On paper, the plot could fit into an episode of an American soap opera, however, the material is handled with a degree of sophistication in Almodovar’s hands.
It is difficult to go into too much depth without revealing major turning points in the story. Suffice to say though, the body is a spectacle objected to the cinematic voyeuristic gaze. The gaze, however, becomes redirected after a sudden plot twist and this brings life back into a prolonged and tired story. Pacing does lose its initial momentum, but does gradually reappear within the final moments of the film. The present day scenes are highly engrossing, but when the time travels back six years, movement becomes long and drawn out. A storyline featuring a boy called Vicente (Jan Cornet) who is connected with Robert’s daughter’s suspected rape becomes caught up in this laborious continuation, despite its interesting narrative climax.
Skin plays an interesting role where it physically protects the body while covering the exterior, but also has more emotional effects. While Robert remoulds Vera and repairs her skin to a superior subhuman, he is also mending his broken life after the traumatic deaths of his wife and daughter. Robert has nothing left but to offer his services to mend other people’s wounds.
Banderas handles his role well, but it does not seem that too much is really required for the role of Robert. More attention is focused upon Vera Cruz and her physical personification throughout the whole film, which does seem to embody perfection. Anaya plays Vera well with subdued restrain. Paredas is also solid and manages to steal enough attention to her character that she deserves some of past scenes screen time. Almodovar’s latest is an extremely engrossing concept, with some highlights found in hastily paced scenes.
The Skin I Live In opens theatrically in Australia on December 26 through Transmission Films.